City to use bond money to build tennis courts

Published 10:12 am Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Halls Ferry Park is getting four new tennis courts, and some of the money to build them will be coming from the city’s $9.2 million bond issue.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 2-1 to award a contract to Hemphill Construction Co. of Florence to build the four courts for $540,497, a decision requiring the board to shift $229,458.55 in bond funds to the tennis courts project to make up the $220,497 difference between the construction cost and the $320,000 in the city’s general fund available for the project.

The $229,458.55 is the projected unused money remaining after the budget was made for the first phase of bond issue. The extra money, however, may not include enough to cover the engineering oversight on the project, city Accounting Director Doug Whittington said.

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Mayor George Flaggs Jr. opposed the plan, saying the board was setting a bad precedent by shifting the bond issue money to build the courts.

“I wasn’t going to play politics with the (bond) money,” Flaggs said after the meeting. “The fact that it’s bond money makes this even worse. It means we’re already diverting it before we can begin to spend it.”

The board in December approved building two tennis courts funded by a combination of a $100,000 Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks Land and Water Conservation grant and $220,000 in city funds. The board in January applied for an additional $60,000 to build two more courts, which city officials hoped would attract tennis tournaments to the city.

In early October, the board advertised for bids to build the two tennis courts with two extra courts listed as an alternate bid.

Kalmar Construction of Mississippi had the low bid of $325,177.69 to build the two courts. The additional two courts would cost an extra $234,684.70, and with a discount for the package, the cost for all four $555,078.65. Hemphill’s bid was $332,255 for the two courts and $212,477 for the other two courts, or $540,497 with the construction discount.

South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson added the tennis court project as a last minute amendment to the board’s Monday meeting agenda, a change from board policy that requires the mayor and aldermen to be informed in advance of any changes in the agenda.

“We have an opportunity to host state tournaments,” he said before the vote. “Tennis is a growing program at Halls Ferry Park. Just go out there any Monday, Tuesday or Thursday and look at the people playing.”

By adding four courts, he said, the city could host the Southwest Athletic Conference tennis tournament and other college tournaments. Alcorn State University is a SWAC member.

“This is going to give the community more recreational opportunities and attract more people to Vicksburg,” he said.

“We have no official documents that say if we add two tennis courts, at a cost of $300,000 or more, that was not budgeted, that these tournaments will come to Vicksburg,” Flaggs said.

“This was not an emergency. If it had been an emergency, I would gladly have voted to alter the spending authority of the city. We adopted a budget that did not have in there any expenditures for extra courts,” he said.

“With $2 million in one-time money and all the unfunded mandates we have to address in this fiscal year, I just thought it irresponsible for us to put that kind of money in recreation and at the same time ask the voters to vote to raise taxes on themselves to support a sports complex.”

Flaggs earlier Monday sent Thompson and North Ward Aldermen Michael Mayfield an email telling them he would not support building the extra courts at Halls Ferry. Flaggs at an Oct. 26 meeting reminded the board about extra spending with the city’s tight budget.

Thompson suggested using some of the $9.2 million bond money to build the extra courts during the Oct. 26 meeting, but Flaggs cautioned against it.

“It looks like a lot of money now,” he said, “but I operate in the conservative end of ‘what if?’ My recommendation is we don’t move any of the money the first year except what is in the formula to spend, then you have safety when we go into next year.”




About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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